Exploring the changing role of the General Counsel

From risk manager to business enabler

Expectations of today's General Counsel

In-house legal teams no longer simply provide advice, manage risk and ensure legal compliance. Today’s General Counsel (GC) is expected to help guide the business through times of change and meet commercial objectives, operating as a business enabler and an essential adviser to the board.

It’s a significant challenge and a great opportunity. It’s also something that they’re well-placed to address because their legal teams sit at the heart of the organisation and connect the different departments. However, some businesses are missing this strategic benefit by failing to involve GCs as they should.

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Leading legal transformation

Driven by board expectations and a constant need to demonstrate business value, forward-thinking GCs are transforming their legal teams to support their organisations in new ways, introducing technology to deliver more efficient and effective services and enabling their people to focus on higher-value and more engaging work. 

Successful GCs are now running their in-house legal teams as a ‘business within a business’, delivering better services and increased impact. Increasingly, organisations are relying on the  expertise of the legal department to help realise commercial goals. 

To be effective, this transformation needs engagement across the legal team and the wider business. So, as well as driving change from the ground up, GCs are working with senior stakeholders to demonstrate the role their team can play and the tangible benefits of transformation. Those that succeed take a strategic approach, introducing technology or systems that reduce costs without compromising longer-term goals. Simply meeting cost reduction targets can affect day-to-day business, so balancing board demands and transformation projects is essential.

“In the last two years in particular, the legal team has become much more of a trusted business partner.”

Katherine Woods, Group Legal Director, Mitie

Demonstrating value and encouraging change

Like any other business department, in-house legal teams are under pressure to deliver value. At our recent GC Summit, a PwC survey showed that workloads have increased but budgets and headcounts have stayed the same or decreased for most legal departments (74%). 

GCs are transforming their teams so that they can do more with less, but at the same time demonstrating the value they add. By benchmarking their team’s operating model, or using zero-based budgeting, they can show the business:

  • the critical services, how they add value and how they have changed over time

  • opportunities for using technology, standardisation or relocation

  • how the legal team’s performance is measured and how the key cost drivers are identified

  • where they can introduce change and efficiencies

“Regulatory changes are so much at the front and centre of how the business adapts and continues to compete that you really have to have lawyers at the top table”.

Nick Evans, General Counsel, Barings
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“I’m involved in so much of what’s going through the company, through the business at every pivotal point. And I’m part of the decision-making process.”

Tonmoy Mukherjee, Global Head of Legal, TWP

General counsel: an essential advisor to the board

GCs play an important role in helping the board manage new and evolving risks – from geopolitics to cyber security. With connections across the wider business, in-house legal teams are uniquely positioned to spot risks arising in one area and understand their impacts elsewhere. GCs are not only spotting these risks and working with senior management to enable informed, business-driven decision making but are challenging and enabling the board to make commercial decisions within acceptable risk limits.

GCs are under a similar level of scrutiny as the heads of other prominent functions such as finance and HR. They’re expected to manage legal resources and services, and also lead their teams in creating value for the business. That involves motivating and leading a diverse team of lawyers and support staff, engaging with the wider business and providing other teams with the tools and frameworks to help manage their risks.

Forward-thinking GCs are increasingly taking a proactive approach to legal services and delivering exceptional value across the business. For example, some have set up legal risk frameworks so that other teams can complete basic legal tasks themselves – e.g. simple contracting – freeing up time and resources across the business.

Contact us

Ed  Stacey

Ed Stacey

Head of Legal, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7725 445168

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